PART FIVE: AUTO-TUTORIAL AND Q & A
The crew quarters were attached to the launch center and consisted of a small undecorated room with two single beds, two study tables piled with text books, a frig, coffee pot, heating oven, a door that led to the bathroom and more fluorescent lights. The launch officers explained they were obtaining advanced degrees through correspondence courses, and the job allowed a lot of study time. The Captain had completed three masters degrees and was working on a Phd. The 1st Lieutenant was only on his second masters but was looking forward to starting his Phd program.Question and answer time went something like:
Q: Would you really fire the missile?When asked what they wanted to do next in their careers, both said they wanted to cross train into the Minuteman Missile System.
We thanked the launch officers, and the SPs lead us back out to the entry room. The Lieutenant guide then explained that the last part of the tour, the viewing of the missile, was optional. Anyone not wishing to see the missile would be taken back up to the bus and wait for the rest of the group to complete the tour. I was very surprised when ten of the group, including our ROTC Captain, elected to return to the bus. We were then introduced to a missile maintenance NCO who would be conducting the tour of the missile.
PART SIX: THE MISSILE
Five of us and our guide proceeded down a long dimly lit concrete tunnel. The floor of the tunnel was made of metal grate and below ran cables and pipes. The walls of the tunnel were also covered with wires and pipes. The tunnel dead ended into a metal door that looked similar to a watertight door on a submarine. Ducking through this portal, we walked out onto a gangway and up to the missile. The gangway we were standing on hit the missile about in the middle. Directing our attention up, our guide pointed out the stages of the rocket and the nose cone containing the warhead. Looking down, which seemed a long way down, he explained the functions of the ignition and fuel stages. In contrast to the rest of the facility the silo was very clean, almost sterile, and brightly lit. The missile was painted white, gray, and black with the initials USA stenciled vertically in black along the sides. The surface of the missile was buffed to a high glossy sheen and was cool to the touch. A muted hissing and wisps of white vapor came from the sides of the rocket near the bottom. Our guide explained this was oxygen venting from the fuel stage and was normal. While explaining the fueling and maintenance procedures I could feel that this NCO was proud of the silo and especially the missile. Unlike the launch officers, who appeared harried and tired, the maintenance NCO exuded a relaxed confidence that this rocket was ready to deliver it's payload. He appeared not to care what the ultimate purpose of the missile was but rather that it was clean and in perfect working order at all times.
PART SEVEN: CONCLUSIONS AND LINKS
Up to this point in the tour I had pretty much expected what was coming and had kept a relatively cool, ho-hum, emotional distance. Ten minutes with the Titan and his mechanic friend were enough to crack my comfortable intellectual shell and dissolve a couple of defense mechanisms. This allowed me to understand exactly where I was and what I was standing next to. I was lost in this new revelation, and I think our guide was reeling off the missile's vital statistics, how high, far and fast when a deafening klaxon blast startled us all into a hasty retreat from the silo.
The trip back to campus was a subdued affair with no discussion of what we had seen or experienced. I seem to recall I kept wondering if those in the group who did not elect to visit the missile had felt the same way I had when I was standing next to the missile, just sooner.
In my short four year tour of active duty, I met many pilots and missileers. All talked about career, education, money and future. Hearing them, one would think they were part of a big company that had a strict dress code. It was always my interactions with the NCO's who cleaned, painted, repaired, and readied the hardware that brought home the true nature of the job. Disaster at Silo 7 is a realistic and fitting filmic homage to the Air Force technician, and it is their portrayal in the film that made me able to recall clearly the Titan and his mechanic friend I met in 1978.
The Titans are gone now, replaced by newer missile systems that use solid fuel rockets which are safer and easier to maintain. The rockets themselves have been recycled and are used to launch satellites for the Air Force and NASA. A decommissioned Titan site in Sahuarita Arizona has been preserved and turned into The Titan Missile Museum, where for a fee, one can tour the launch facility and silo. The museum, part of the Pima County Air and Space Museum, has it's own official web site which includes the history of the Titan missile program, times of operation and tour info. This site also has a virtual tour of the launch facility, silo, and missile with some very good photos. Be sure to also visit an interesting spelunking tour of a decaying Titan site.
Disaster at Silo 7 is no longer available for sale on video. I stumbled on a copy for rent at a small local video rental place (Good Luck!). Reel.com has very good background information on the film. For a summary of what occurred in the actual accident that the film was based on, and a history of other U.S. nuclear weapons accidents, go to the Center for Defense Information.
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